June 2007


Given Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 connection and his departures (past and/or present) from G.O.P. dogma on issues like abortion and gun control, terrorism has been the central issue of his campaign so far.  Giuliani has so far largely neutralized questions about his actions in the hours and days following the World Trade Center attacks by repeatedly calling for aggressive offensive action against terrorist groups in order to head off more national tragedies.

 Until recently, Giuliani appeared determined to keep the issue of terrorism above the vicious political fray, rejecting attacks on President Clinton’s record of fighting terrorism as distracting and unhelpful.

[Last September] Giuliani defended Clinton’s record amid political bickering over which president — Clinton or George W. Bush — missed more opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don’t think he deserves it,” Giuliani said during a stop in Florida. “I don’t think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for Sept. 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists — the Islamic fanatics — who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it.”

Giuliani’s rhetoric was markedly different Tuesday in comments delivered at Pat Robertson’s conservative christian Regent University, however, suggesting that former President Clinton failed to respond adequately to the 1993 WTC attack.

“Islamic terrorists killed more than 500 Americans before Sept. 11. Many people think the first attack on America was on Sept. 11, 2001. It was not. It was in 1993,” said the former New York mayor.

Giuliani argued that Clinton treated the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act instead of a terrorist attack, calling it “a big mistake” that emboldened other strikes on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen in 2000.

“The United States government, then President Clinton, did not respond,” Giuliani said. “(Osama) bin Laden declared war on us. We didn’t hear it.”

In hindsight, Giuliani said, maybe it’s all clearer now, “but now is now, and there is no reason to go back into denial, and that is essentially what the Democratic candidates for president want to do: they want to go back, to put the country in reverse to the 1990s.”

Certainly Giuliani has every right to change his mind about Clinton’s record, but he conveniently failed to note that as Mayor of New York he may have underestimated the warning of the 1993 attack by locating his emergency command center  on the 23rd floor of a building in the WTC complex just across the street from the towers — a building that subsequently collapsed following the 9/11 attacks.

If a candidate wants to flip-flop and assign blame to somebody else, it pays to make sure one’s own record doesn’t invite charges of hypocrisy.

John Edwards is the most unabashedly populist candidate (so far…) in the race to November 2008, frequently utilizing class-infused rhetoric in his diagnoses of “two Americas.”

One of Edwards’ loftiest priorities is to eradicate poverty, and ostensibly to that end he founded the now-defunct Center for Promise and Opportunity in 2005.  The group’s rather vague mission statement read:

The Center for Promise and Opportunity (CPO) is dedicated to exploring new ways to expand opportunity and realize the promise of our country for all Americans. CPO’s mission encompasses much more than just proposing ideas — it will lead efforts to build public support for change, and will serve as an incubator for solutions, conducting real-world trials.

CPO has three overarching goals. First, CPO is committed to exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life. Second, CPO will be an advocate for change, leading efforts to build support for policies and movements that will make America stronger. Third, CPO will work to prove the strength of its ideas, through pilot projects and partnerships.

As The New York Times reports, however, the organization’s day-to-day mission seems to have been sustaining John Edwards’ presidential ambitions.  This inconvenient truth seems to represent a flip-flop from CPO’s supposed purpose, which says nothing about promoting John Edwards.

The organization became a big part of a shadow political apparatus for Mr. Edwards after his defeat as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and before the start of his presidential bid this time around. Its officers were members of his political staff, and it helped pay for his nearly constant travel, including to early primary states.

While Mr. Edwards said the organization’s purpose was “making the eradication of poverty the cause of this generation,” its federal filings say it financed “retreats and seminars” with foreign policy experts on Iraq and national security issues. Unlike the scholarship charity, donations to it were not tax deductible, and, significantly, it did not have to disclose its donors — as political action committees and other political fund-raising vehicles do — and there were no limits on the size of individual donations. […]

Additionally, Edwards has gone a fair bit beyond the usual extent to which politicians funnel cash to their own interests — though it all appears to have been ambiguously legal.

[…] [I]t was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office. And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm. Such entities, which are regulated under Section 501C-4 of the tax code, can engage in advocacy but cannot make partisan political activities their primary purpose without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.

Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty.

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The McCain campaign has noted a number of Mitt Romney’s policy/rhetorical shifts over the past few weeks, including such issues as stem cells, immigration, and abortion.  Now the ex-governor from Massachusetts, or at least his campaign staffers, have struck back against Senator McCain in an attempt to derail the so-called “straight talk express.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times’ “Caucus” political blog reports that the Romney camp is publicizing a discrepancy between McCain’s campaign rhetoric and his voting record regarding the U.S. Information Agency.  Until the public diplomacy agency’s duties were folded into the State Department in 1999, it sought to promote and publicize official U.S. policies and positions to foreign governments and populations.

Excerpts from a speech McCain was scheduled to deliver in Palm Beach, Florida find the Senator advocating reconstituting the Information Agency as an independent body.

“Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,’’ he will say, according to excerpts of the speech obtained from the campaign.

As the Romney campaign points out, though, this opinion is apparently at odds with his Senate voting record:

The Romney campaign lost no time in pointing out to reporters that Mr. McCain voted for the 1998 bill that merged the United States Information Agency with the State Department – a bill that also authorized payments to the United Nations and authorized spending for the State Department.

While the Romney campaign is certainly correct that McCain’s new statement represents a direct departure from the bill for which he voted nearly ten years ago, the actual significance and relevance of this point requires a few caveats.

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At last year’s Take Back America meeting of liberal activists, the New York Times described the reception of Hillary Clinton,

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, faced boos and shouts of ‘bring them home’ from an audience of liberal Democrats here on Tuesday as she argued against setting a deadline, wading into what she called a ‘difficult conversation.’

At last year’s conference she said,

“I don’t think it’s in the best interests of our troops or our country [to withdraw troops from Iraq],”

At this year’s meeting she said,

“I have been saying for some time that we need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq starting right now.”

In a piece by NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, on this morning’s today show, NBC News political analyst Charlie Cook said,

“You can see that Clinton’s position has shifted increasingly against the war and at about the same timetable as public opinion has moved over.”

Mitchell’s piece goes on to discuss the entire Democratic Party’s increasing move to the left over opposition to the war.

To check out Mitchell’s entire story, look for Today Show video “Democrats Swinging Too Far Left?”

An article published yesterday discusses Hillary Clinton’s shifting position on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law signed by her husband, which permits states to ignore same sex marriages or civil unions granted in other states.

“Clinton’s change on DOMA came to light when her advisers released the text of her candidate questionnaire for the Human Rights Campaign.

Her new stance may be an attempt to establish a separate identity from that of Bill Clinton, whose presidency was somewhat of a best-of-times, worst-of-times for LGBT Americans….

DOMA contains two provisions — one that gives states autonomy on marriage and one that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

With the precision of a neurosurgeon, Clinton cut herself free of the second plank of the law while continuing to embrace the first plank, essentially saying that she would let states decide their own destiny on marriage but leave the door open for federal recognition of same-sex unions.

‘Sen. Clinton believes that each state should make its own decisions regarding marriage or civil unions, but once a state legalizes such relationships, these relationships should receive full federal recognition and benefits,’ Ethan Geto, Clinton’s senior national adviser on LGBT issues, wrote in an email to The Advocate.

‘As several states have legalized gay marriage or civil unions, Sen. Clinton has come to believe that the restrictions imposed by DOMA on federal government recognition of same-sex relationships are unfair.’

The position represents a marked departure from her comments to a group of about 40 LGBT leaders in New York in October during her Senate reelection campaign, in which she stood firm on the strategic importance of DOMA in helping to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have constitutionally denied the right of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

‘One of the strongest arguments we had against the constitutional amendment, which kept Democrats and even some Republicans from voting for it, was DOMA — that (the Federal Marriage Amendment) was not necessary; marriage has always been the province of states,’ Clinton said during that meeting.

‘I feel very good about the strategy we took on DOMA,’ she added.

While cynics may roll their eyes at ‘strategy,’ and while many LGBT activists criticized Clinton for not being more supportive during the federal marriage debate, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, has credited her as a strategic force in defeating the amendment in 2006.”

The Boston Globe ran an article yesterday about John McCain’s consistency on controversial immigration legislation. According to the Globe, “And he may never be the Republican presidential nominee, either. That could be the price of standing for what he believes in.”

A related Boston Globe article today on McCain’s positions on immigration reform commented

“He [McCain] also said the nature of the debate over immigration reflected the ‘deterioration of the political discourse in America today.’

One of the toughest amendments, McCain said, is one that would require illegal immigrants to return to their home country before  applying for a ‘Z visa,’ which the bill would create to allow them to legally work in the United States.

…McCain said conservatives who want to focus exclusively on securing America’s borders are missing a major part of the problem: that 40 percent of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States are here because they overstayed their visas, not because they entered the country illegally.

As he did in 2000, McCain has staked his candidacy in part on his authenticity, often saying that it’s more important to him to do what is right than to win an election. His support for overhauling immigration laws is hampering his outreach to conservatives, and his outspoken support for the war in Iraq appears to be pushing independents away from him.”

After criticizing Mitt Romney’s abortion flip-flop last week, John McCain has struck again.  A blog entry at the New York Times discusses the McCain campaign’s latest allegations that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the hot-button issue of public funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On abortion, Romney has clearly switched his position — it’s up to the individual voter to decide if he flip-flopped or if he changed his mind for non-political reasons.  But do these stem cell charges hold water?

The McCain campaign’s charge relies on this video of a March 2005 press conference:

Then-Governor Romney repeatedly states that he supports stem cell research within “ethical boundaries” and that (in Massachusetts at least) it should be researched as part of a broader approach:

ROMNEY: I’m looking forward to seeing what bill comes forward, I believe that stem cell research is important for our state and for our nation, and I also believe that there should be ethical lines drawn around the appropriate research, but stem cell research is important, and I’ll support it, and I’m gonna continue to encourage ethical lines to be drawn in a way that respects human life.

Asked whether both public and private funding should go to stem cell research, Romney responded with a focus on economics rather than the usual social politics:

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